Sony Xperia S – tech giant goes it alone


Having dropped Ericsson after 10 years in one of the costliest divorces of all time, can Sony Mobile’s first release as a single entity establish the high-end Xperia S as the new king of the Android market?

As divorces go, it was a pretty expensive one. Having bought out Ericsson’s share of Sony Ericsson for a reported €1.05 billion, it’s not surprising that Sony isn’t hanging around.

Barely two months on from that expensive handshake, it is pressing ahead with plans to breathe new life into a company that often appeared to be facing strong competition at every turn.

Sony Ericsson maintained a great reputation for producing superb camera phones, innovative handset designs and clever accessories.

But it struggled to establish a ‘hero’ device that could compete with Apple’s iPhone or 2011’s most popular Android smartphone, the Samsung Galaxy S II.

On that note, meet the Xperia S, a luxurious, HD, PlayStation-certified Android smartphone that aims to become the new go-to handset for Android fans – and it’s certainly a bold statement of intent.

Size matters no more
Rather than spend months forcing its engineers to shave millimetres off a design in order to compete for the increasingly dubious ‘World’s Thinnest Smartphone’ trophy, Sony has changed tack and concentrated on making a smartphone that is instantly recognisable.

So the Xperia S is not particularly thin: 1.3mm thicker than an iPhone 4S and 3.5mm thicker than a Motorola RAZR. But it does score heavily with a couple of cool design cues. Firstly, it comes in a soft-touch matte finish that we found capable of repelling even the greasiest ‘just eaten a bag of crisps’ fingerprints.

Secondly, it has a clear plastic strip separating the main body of the phone from the antenna section at the bottom. The strip contains three illuminated Android icons (back, home, menu) and lends the Xperia S a futuristic, lightsabre-esque aura of quality.

In terms of practicality, however, it adds little. Although a comfortable phone to hold, the strip’s glowing icons are not touch-sensitive. Instead, users must tap touch-sensitive areas above the strip. Our review sample was slightly unresponsive and obstinate.

Poured into the swanky chassis is a wealth of performance and features including a 1.5GHz dual-core processor and a 12.1-megapixel camera with the ability to shoot 3D panoramas. You also get Airplay-style wireless streaming to your TV and NFC, with many retailers sweetening the deal by offering four free SmartTag accessories in the box.

One of the Xperia S’s standout features is its 4.3-inch 720p HD screen, which we predicted would be world-class and every inch the rival to Apple’s Retina display, and we were right.

Consider that the Xperia S’s predecessor – the arc S – had a 4.2-inch display with a resolution of 854×480 pixels. The Xperia S’s display is just 1mm larger, but boasts a massive 720×1,280 resolution. It’s pin-sharp, especially when you factor in Sony’s Mobile BRAVIA Engine pixel-polishing tech and one of the highest-quality screens out there.

Colour reproduction is on a par with Samsung’s superb Super AMOLED and despite marvelling at several movies, it didn’t appear to sap battery life either. The Xperia S achieved close to the manufacturer’s stated 7.5hrs on a single charge, though don’t expect more than a day’s use.

Not surprisingly both movies and games looked smooth, demonstrated by the likes of Need For Speed Shift. The fact that the Xperia S is PlayStation-certified (like the unpopular Xperia PLAY) means that users get access to old PSone console classics. Though it has to be said, PSone games were built for a real D-pad, rather than a virtual one.

Killer camera
Another Xperia S killer USP is the camera. The front-facing 720p worked impressively well when Skyping, but it’s the rear camera that is the star attraction. The pictures we shot in low, dusky light came out looking almost like daylight thanks to Sony’s Exmor R sensor, which enhances images and sucks in the maximum amount of light possible while retaining a reasonably sharp image. There’s no shutter lag and the device can go from sleep mode to a snapped shutter in 1.5 seconds, according to Sony. We found it took more like 2-2.5 seconds, but it’s still impressively quick on the draw.

Playing around with the photo modes is fun for about five minutes. There’s Sweep Panorama mode, which works brilliantly to construct a 180-degree shot by dragging the camera through the air, and 3D Sweep Panorama mode, which sadly doesn’t work as well.

Overall, though, there’s no doubt this is the ultimate smartphone camera and leaves even the iPhone 4S behind as it ups the ante for all others to follow. Importantly, it’s a great connected camera that offers much more than many budget point and shoot cameras. We’d wager you’d need to spend £250 on a portable camera to get the kind of features that the Xperia S offers.

Full article in Mobile News issue 511 (March 9, 2012).

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